Over-cladding — the debate continues

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In their response last month to my Building Today May 2014 article on over-cladding, Phil O’Sullivan and William Hursthouse raise legitimate issues, but these issues are not required by the Building Act.

However, they should be prudent concerns for any owner of a monoclad home contemplating repairs. The issues they raise should be investigated and mitigated no matter what type of method you use to replace the exterior cladding.

I have some sympathy with their approach of treating every mononclad home constructed between 1993 and 2005 as ultimately needing a full-on strip down and reclad.

However, most of their reasoning is driven by lack of financial constraints, “what ifs”, and the fear of legal action should they miss something.

The result of risk-averse behaviour is unfortunate for the consumer who has to foot the bill for possible over-specification in order to protect those working on their project from future litigation.

Messrs O’Sullivan and Hursthouse are correct that the law regarding joint and several liability has a lot to answer for, and that it drives risk-averse behaviour that in many circumstances is not in the best financial interests of the person footing the repair bill.

The monolithic repair industry with its legal opportunists and remediation consultants who are feeding handsomely off it is looking more like the United States healthcare system every day.

In the United States, if you need a stent for a blocked artery or a new heart valve there is a chance you will end up with a recommendation for a heart transplant. Not because you critically need it but because the surgeon wants to avoid the risk of a lawsuit should he have missed something.

Unfortunately, we may well be behaving in the same manner when we are specifying total strip downs and recladding to otherwise well-designed, low-risk, non-leaking but stigmatised monoclad homes.

In my article, I stated that an over-clad is really only an option on low-risk designs on more sheltered sites. Furthermore, the homes should be robustly tested for evidence of water ingress and timber degradation.

In the over-clad examples I mentioned, the tests were done by cutting numerous 300mm square targeted viewing portals on the inside and exterior of the dwelling, the use of cameras within the wall cavities and all the usual moisture checking devices.

In addition to this, all windows are removed from the dwelling, checked for leaks and then reinstated according to the latest regulations. Ground clearances are also checked and modified where necessary.

This investigation work is done by an experienced building inspector before and during construction, with results recorded accordingly. The record of work and the mitigation methods used would be available to any prospective purchaser of the dwelling.

In an ideal world every dwelling that is to be reclad would be done and the home upgraded in the manner proposed by Messrs O’Sullivan and Hursthouse.

Economic reality

However, the economic reality of having to spend at least $200,000 to $300,000 to achieve this is not only beyond the financial ability of most home owners, but often exceeds the market value of the property as well, making it unfundable.

Unless the affected home owner has been fortunate enough to have received a financial settlement, few will have the financial resources.

The ability to get financial settlements on non-leaking homes is also highly unlikely as time elapses, and there is no fault with the home other than having a value destroying stigma attached to it.

Over-cladding is not about short term solutions or a quick fix, but giving an affordable realistic alternative solution to the replacement cladding problem that will inevitably face every home owner of a monoclad home built circa 1993-2005.

Done sensibly and with care, it provides a realistic alternative.